Parliamentary Elections in Afghanistan

Disenchanted Voters in the Hindukush

Around 12 million Afghans were called on to vote, and as elections took place under generally peaceful conditions, they have been described as successful - yet many Afghans were decidedly unenthusiastic about voting. Ratbil Shamel reports

photo: AP
A lengthy procedure - it will be at least a month before the results are declared. An Afghan woman counting votes in Kabul

​​Afghanistan has voted - half-heartedly, it's true, but successfully too. Early projections indicate that around half of all those entitled to vote actually did so. In view of the tense security situation, that's far better than most people would have dared to hope.

The Taliban's failed strategies

And no wonder. In recent months, the Taliban had gained in strength, and attacks on candidates had been a daily occurrence. The soi-disant warriors of God had also tried repeatedly to hinder the elections by carrying out massive acts of violence. Though attacks took place and several people died on election day, voting did go ahead as planned.

People defied the violence and turned up to vote, wanting peace and security after more than 20 years of war and misery. The Taliban's strategy failed.

Along with the Afghan army and police, the troops of the ISAF (the anti-terror coalition led by the USA) had the situation under control, and people felt safe. Peter Erben, chief coordinator of the elections, was himself a little surprised that the day turned out be relatively peaceful. He described the calm atmosphere at the polling stations as remarkable.

A lengthy counting procedure

Yet the elections in Afghanistan are not over yet: though the ballots have been cast, they have still to be counted. The people in charge say it will take around a month before all the ballot papers have been transported to the 22 regional counting centres and the final tally is announced.

October 22nd is being mooted as the day on which the results will be made known. Emma Bonino, the UN's Chief Observer at the Afghan elections, describes this as a further challenge: "If all goes well, then the next thing will be a long phase of disagreement about the election results - and many candidates will want to dispute those results."

Transporting ballot papers by camel and donkey

photo: AP
The election's over, and the campaigning begins. Emma Bonino believes that many candidates will challenge the results

​​The Afghan government and the international troops are now faced with the thorny problem of protecting the ballot boxes from manipulation. In many places, camels or donkeys have to be used to transport the ballots across barely passable mountain paths to the counting centres.

For opponents of the elections, this provides opportunities to destroy the ballot papers, thereby throwing doubt on the validity of the results.

Nonetheless, the Afghan government has promised to do all it can to avoid disruptions. Ali Ahmad Jalali, Afghanistan's Minister of the Interior, explained on state-run television that Afghan and international troops had already been taking precautions.

Seeking reasons for the low turnout

Yet it seems that the candidates themselves are less worried about such security matters. They're far more interested in finding out why so few people turned out to vote.

Ramazan Bashardost is the former Minister of Planning and a man with good prospects of being elected to Parliament. He blames the false policies of President Hamid Karzai for the low turnout: "People are disappointed; disillusioned because their lives haven't noticeably improved since the Presidential elections a year ago."

Bashardost claims that Karzai has fulfilled none of his promises: "Many people now believe that another election will do nothing to improve their situation. What's more, they take it for granted that the results will be manipulated anyway."

Political deficits of the Karzai regime

Independent Afghan observers are also surprised that the elections aroused so little interest, even in the capital, Kabul. They, too, attribute this widespread apathy to the government's unsuccessful policies in the fields of education, health, and the economy.

Nor, they say, has the government managed to keep its promise to reduce the rampant corruption amongst state-run public authorities. Qasim Achgar, one of the best-known intellectuals in the country, names another reason why people stayed away from the polling stations:

"This time around, a lot of people didn't even know exactly what they were voting for. Many can hardly imagine what the word 'parliament' might mean. The presidential elections were a different matter. There, many people said they were choosing their king, and so they turned out to vote in large numbers."

The non-voters themselves have a very different explanation for their refusal to cast a ballot. As they see it, most of those standing for office were powerful former warlords or military commanders - and under no circumstances did the people wish to cast a vote for them.

Ratbil Shamel


Translation from German by Patrick Lanagan

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